The year 2011 was an interesting year for many northern and central European countries, as the weather was more than unpredictable in the spring and summer. However, in most countries, the climatic conditions thankfully settled down in the late summer and fall. The result of this slightly difficult year of weather in France was a set of surprisingly small yields, but overall, these yields were of a higher quality than those harvested in certain previous years. A fantastic set of wines was also made in Italy and Spain, and the Rioja wines - when released - are set to be very good indeed. Austria also had superb year in 2011, with almost fifty percent more grapes being grown and used for their distinctive Gruner Veltliner wines than in the year before. Possibly the European country which had the finest 2011, though, was Portugal, with wineries in the Douro region claiming this year to be one of the best in decades for the production of Port wine, and the bright, young Vinho Verdes wines.
In the New World, the Pacific Northwest saw some of the best weather of 2011, and Washington State and Oregon reportedly had a highly successful year, especially for the cultivation of high quality red wine grapes. Chile and Argentina had a relatively cool year, which certainly helped retain the character of many of their key grape varietals, and should make for some exciting drinking. South Africa had especially good weather for their white wine grape varietals, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and many South African wineries are reporting 2011 as one of their best years in recent memory.
Varietal: Chenin Blanc
For centuries, the Chenin Blanc grape has been grown in its native France, and in many other countries around the world (most notably in South Africa). These green skinned grapes are revered for the fact that their high acidity makes them extremely versatile, and Chenin Blanc wines can range from the fascinating, sweet and viscous dessert wines made by allowing noble rot to develop on the fruit, to dry and crisp sparkling crÃ©mants, or simple, elegant still white wines. Their key feature is that they are considered to be a highly 'transparent' grape, allowing the features of their terroir to come through in the glass, and the fact that they can carry a beautiful range of tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple, guava and banana.
Region: Loire Valley
In France, the region most closely associated with the production of fine white wines is the Loire Valley, a particularly fertile and temperate region near the Atlantic coast. This reputation is certainly justified, and the Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc vines which flourish in this region produce both dry and dessert wines of exquisite character and flavor However, the region is also responsible for some seriously high quality Cabernet Franc based wines, such as those found in the sub-region of Chenin, and plenty of elegant bubbly crÃ©mant wines, which are often fruitier and more lively than those found in Champagne, and with a character all of their own. The Loire Valley is an ancient wine region, with archaeological evidence dating wine production in this area back to the first century.
It is widely understood and accepted that the finest wines in the world come out of France. Whether you are drinking a vintage bottle from one of the famed Grand Cru wineries of Bordeaux - such as Chateau Margaux or Chateau Lafite-Rothschild - or a more simple and affordable bottle from one of the lesser known appellations in Burgundy, the likelihood is that the wine is packed full of intense and interesting flavors, and has a fine, balanced structure typical of almost all French produce. This reputation for excellence is taken extremely serious by the French, with dozens of regularly updated laws and regulations ensuring the quality and accurate labeling of wines. Such dedication and passion for fine wine, representative of the region in which it is produced, means customers can be assured that when they buy a bottle from France, they are buying something almost certain to please and delight.